A Flipped Learning Growth Mindset Requires the “R” Word

Lead Features October / Top Feature October / October 17, 2018

-Thomas Mennella-

The Academy of Active Learning Arts and Sciences (AALAS) recently published standards for best practices in Flipped Learning. Here are the core “general standards categories”:


Source (click this link to read more about each one)

If you visit the site, you’ll see that each AALAS standard is expanded upon, with sub-bullets and additional information as you dig more deeply into them. So what do we make of these standards? How do we use them? Well, for us in higher ed, we use these standards as we’re already accustomed to using standards in general. We measure our institutions against them; we self-assess.

For some time now, many of us have been flipping in isolated bubbles. While we’ve done our best to use best practices, and perhaps we were using them a few years ago, Flipped Learning has evolved at a phenomenal rate and what was cutting edge in 2016 is likely obsolete now (see Terra Graves’ wonderful infographic here as a summary of this evolution). The AALAS Standards listed above are meant to establish benchmarks that we can strive to reach and use to guide our own improvement in how we use Flipped Learning. Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve been flipping for nearly six years; one of the first to do so in higher ed after Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams’ revolution took hold. I’ve published on FL, presented on it dozens of times, I am an FLGI International Faculty Member and the Higher Education Editor of this publication. I’m a good flipper, if I may say so myself. But do I meet every standard on the list above? Do I satisfy every best practice? Not even close. So what to do about that? Where do we go from here? Finding the answers to those questions is easier than you might think. In fact, it makes me think of something… Uh oh, I think I’m going to say a vile and naughty word…. I can’t help it… Are you ready? I’m gonna say it! REACCREDITATION!!!

For the K12 educators reading this, and anyone else outside of higher ed, you’re probably wondering what’s so bad about that ‘R-word’. Why would the word “reaccreditation” be considered vile? But, for my readers from higher education, did you feel that shiver race up your spine? Did that last meal sitting in your belly turn a bit sour? Are you hiding under a blanket?

There are six recognized regional accrediting bodies in the US, and they go by acronyms (‘nee-ask’; NEASC: New England Association of Schools and Colleges) or shorthand names (‘middle states’; Middle States Commission on Higher Education).

Every ten years, every institution of higher education in the United States comes up for a reaccreditation review orchestrated and coordinated by the appropriate regional body. This review is bad enough. It involves a team of faculty members and administrators from other institutions descending upon your school, and they look through everything (called a “site visit”). They audit the financials, interview students, check your assessment reports and look at learning outcome data. They leave no rock unturned and no secret hidden. But it’s the self-study that we all truly dread (that last meal just soured a bit more, didn’t it, my fellow faculty friend?).

You see, each of these accrediting bodies publishes a set of standards that institutions within its region must meet to be accredited. Self-studies are exhaustive documents compiled by the institution under review where they demonstrate how they meet each standard and provide evidence in support of the same (and they typically take over a year to draft). Institutions must prove to the accrediting body that you meet their standards to be reaccredited. Fail to meet a standard or two and the institution could be put on probation, or worse, lose accreditation altogether. What’s the big deal, you ask? Who needs accreditation, anyway? Well, we do, that’s who! Without accreditation, higher education institutions are not eligible to receive federal financial aid packages in support of their students’ education. And, since most institutions today run on federal dollars, a loss of accreditation is the death-knell of most any college or university. So institutions take reaccreditation very seriously and for good reason.

But is it really as bad as I’m making it out to be? The answer is: no. Researching, compiling and drafting self-studies is arduous, and very disruptive to the entire institution, but they are a good thing. Taking a step back and re-examining your own institution through the eyes (and standards) of another entity is a best practice. It allows you to spot weaknesses and areas ripe for improvement. It also lets you see all of the good that you’re doing and bask in the glow of jobs well done. The standards we must adhere to are not arbitrary; they’re well reasoned and make sense. Here are the NEASC standards (by name alone):

Standard 1: Mission and Purposes
Standard 2: Planning and Evaluation
Standard 3: Organization and Governance
Standard 4: The Academic Program
Standard 5: Students
Standard 6: Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship
Standard 7: Institutional Resources
Standard 8: Educational Effectiveness
Standard 9: Integrity, Transparency, and Public Disclosure

Source (click this link to read more about each one)    

Just by reading through them, you can appreciate the value of these standards and agree to which these are the very things that higher education should be holding itself accountable. Often, this reaccreditation process brings issues to light that hadn’t before been well-appreciated; issues that can only then be resolved. And the institution becomes that much stronger for it. So swallow hard and hold down lunch. The “R-word” is not a naughty word at all. Standards are good, and self-assessment is even better. So what does all of this have to do with the new Global Standards of Flipped Learning and reaching every student, every day? Well, for us in higher ed, it has a lot to do with it. We need to embrace and use the AALAS standards just as we do our reaccreditation standards.

As I’ve already said, I don’t meet every AALAS standard on the list above, and I don’t satisfy every best practice, but I don’t lose any sleep over that, either. The places where I fall short are opportunities for growth and improvement. Without these AALAS standards, I’d never know that I was falling short at all. How can I be expected to grow unless I know where my weaknesses are? Where I meet the standards are my strengths; places where I can help others grow. Without these AALAS standards, I’d never be able to recognize these as my strongest attributes. So, these standards, like those of reaccreditation, are not to be feared or shunned or scoffed at. They are meant to be leveraged, for improvement and growth. They are our Flipped Learning lens and mirror, through which we can recognize best practices and in which we can see ourselves.

So while I never thought I would say this, “Thank you, NEASC, for helping to make my wonderful institution even better than it was before, and thank you, AALAS, for providing the roadmap I need to become the best flipped instructor I can be.” In the end, the FLGI Global Standards are not merely standards; they are a pathway to ensuring that I am reaching every student in every class, every day.

Thomas Mennella
Dr. Thomas Mennella Mennella
I have been an instructor in higher education for over ten years. Starting as a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, and then moving on to an Assistant Professorship at Delaware State University (DSU), a small public university, I experimented with Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and was an early-adopter of the iClicker student response system. Now an Associate Professor at Bay Path University, a private liberal arts institution in western Massachusetts, I primarily teach Genetics, Cell and Molecular Biology. I am Flipped Learning 3.0 Level -II Certified and a founding member of the FLGI International Faculty.

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